London helicopter crash: 'Flaming debris' over Vauxhall

Burnt out car in Vauxhall
Image caption Flaming debris was seen after the helicopter crashed into the crane

It was a cold start to the day with the tops of many high rises cloaked in mist as Londoners living in Vauxhall were waking up and preparing to go out.

Canadian Virginia Bennett, who lives in one of the residential apartments facing the River Thames, was getting ready to take her dog Abby for a walk when the morning calm was shattered by "the noise of metal crashing".

She said: "It sounded like a big car crash. We are not on the roadside so that didn't make sense.

"I opened the curtain and saw what appeared [to be] big pieces [of] metal falling.

Balcony of glass

"I went out to the living room and looked out and could see the black smoke. Then my husband and I realised that the top of the crane was gone."

By the time Mrs Bennett came down people in neighbouring buildings were being evacuated amid reports that a helicopter had hit a crane.

A police road block had already been put up and she witnessed debris "falling into the river".

Among the 30 or so people waiting outside the shiny riverside buildings at St George Wharf in the bitter cold were students Hiam Aldroubi, 22, and Reem Binkhamis, 25.

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Media captionLocal resident Michael Krumpstets: "Helicopter came straight towards us"

Miss Aldroubi, a medical student at St George's Hospital, said she was in a deep sleep and was woken by her parents who were calling from abroad after watching the news.

She said: "They asked me to take a taxi and go to the airport. There were also messages from my professors and students asking if I was OK.

"I ran down in my pyjamas and asked what happened. In my head I remembered the Bond film Skyfall when MI6 explodes and I thought 'oh my god'.

"In my head I thought they were aiming for MI6. Why would a helicopter fall out of nowhere?"

Her neighbour Miss Binkhamis, who is studying biology at Imperial College, was woken by a sound at 08:00 GMT.

She said: "[I] thought the chairs on the balcony had fallen down.

Image caption Students Hiam Aldroubi (left) and Reem Binkhamis were evacuated after the crash

"All [my] neighbours were in the balcony. The noise was loud. An antenna had slammed by the building and fallen down near Jellicoe House.

"My balcony is full of glass."

Vanessa Ten-Hoedt, 32, who lives in Kestrel House, had to flee the building with four-week-old baby Matthew.

'Stressful and scary'

She said: "I was coincidentally looking out of the window and we saw the crane fall and collapse on Nine Elms Road.

"It was a large crane piece which fell down near a car. Shortly after we saw black smoke and we heard an explosion. It sounded like a bomb went off. We saw some debris as we left the building.

"The building was shaking. It was very scary as we didn't know what was going on.

"It was very stressful to evacuate with a four-week-old."

Image caption Vanessa Ten-Hoedt was evacuated with four-week-old baby Matthew

Hundreds of people in five residential buildings in St George Wharf were evacuated, as were workers who were in the tower where the helicopter crashed into.

Gregory Francis, 38, who was waiting in a coffee shop near his home with his toddler and wife, said it was not unusual to see helicopters close to the buildings as many head to a heliport in nearby Battersea.

"Just last week my wife said that one was flying quite low and close to the buildings," he said.

Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall, said there was no reason why there should not be a debate about why so many helicopters are allowed to fly over central London.

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